Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a sculptural installation consisting of a garment rail, a red futon mattress, a white cardboard coffin, an aluminium bucket and various lights. The mattress is suspended by one corner from the garment rail and hangs down to rest on the coffin on one side of the rail and the floor on the other. A long fluorescent light bulb, attached to its fitting, has been pushed through a hole in the mattress. Two large spherical light bulbs hang over the fluorescent tube at the point where it emerges from the mattress. In front of these elements, the bucket has been suspended on its side below a wire coat-hanger. Two more spherical bulbs hang from wires below the coat-hanger and a further bulb, with red glass, is fixed inside the bucket. In Lucas's sculptural language the bucket and bulbs represent female sexuality - the bucket and red bulb genitals, the two round bulbs above them breasts - while the fluorescent tube and two round bulbs have obvious male sexual connotations. The cardboard coffin, partially open and emitting light from holes in the lid, provides a reference to death. The mattress, with its undulating horizontal surface, may be seen as a landscape of desire and the clothes rail, the central support of the work, hints at the masquerade through which sexuality and eroticism are usually expressed.
Lucas derived the title for Beyond the Pleasure Principle 2000 from an essay by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) of the same name published in 1920. Freud's essay proposed a death drive equal in power to the will to survive, linked to the sex drive or 'pleasure principle' which he had already identified as central to the human psyche. Lucas interpreted Freud's essay in an exhibition, also titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle, held at the Freud Museum in north London (Freud's home from 1938 when he fled Nazi Vienna until his death the following year) in 2000. Tate's work was placed in Freud's former bedroom, forming the centrepiece of the exhibition.
Sculptural installations made up of mattresses (or other domestic furniture) and food representing male and female sexual parts have been typical to Lucas's practice since the early 1990s. Au Naturel 1994 (Saatchi Collection, London) is a mattress on which an empty bucket and a couple of melons represent the female elements, while the male is represented by a cucumber and a pair of oranges. These sculptural works, like many of Lucas's photographic self-portraits (Tate P78443-54) literalise vernacular representations of sexuality while exposing, through bawdy humour, the impotent and ridiculous results of sexual objectification. The dark side to sexual objectification has become darker in Lucas's more recent work and, through her reading and interpretation of Freud, has become more overtly connected to death. Lucas has said, 'I think the most powerful art has been about sex and death' (in unpublished interview with the author, 2000). Much of her work, such as the photograph Is Suicide Genetic? 1996 (Tate P78209) expresses the mixture of self-destructiveness and pleasure that such habits as smoking involve. Like smoking, sex involves both pleasure and potential danger through disconnection from emotional roots in the objectification of body parts as well as disease. Lucas's work Beyond the Pleasure Principle equalises erotic and destructive impulses - all represented by glowing lights - in the depiction of a couple who can never connect.
Lynn Barber, 'Drag Queen', Observer Magazine, London, 30 January 2000, pp.10-16
Sarah Lucas, exhibition catalogue, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1996
Sarah Lucas: Self Portraits and More Sex, exhibition catalogue, Centre Cultural Tecla Sala, Barcelona 2000